We Sold Our Car in One Hour!
We’re going to continuously travel abroad for a year, so we got rid of 95% of our stuff. Our car was the last thing to go and it posed a few more concerns than the other items we donated or sold on listing services.
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Downsizing and Selling Our Car
Our biggest variable in our timeline for leaving the country, in our mind, has always been selling our car. We got rid of 95% of our belongings, much of it being sold by listing it (eBay, Craigslist, and word of mouth). And since we were able to list our stuff well before our departure date, we had plenty of time to sell items for their value or only a little below (there were one or two notable exceptions to this).
But when it came to our car, we ran into a few variables.
When to Sell Our Car
Because we decided to not immediately leave the country (Sergio has work and clients to visit and we both have family and friends to visit before heading off), we needed some type of transportation to get us to each location.
Our plan was to go from our home town in Idaho to Portland, then down to the San Francisco Bay Area, have a brief visit in Los Angeles, and finally end in San Diego, California. The questions was how we’d get to each destination.
These were our options:
1. Fly and rent a car in each city for local transportation.
This is the easiest and fastest way to travel. Hop on a plane, and in an hour or two get off and go straight to the rental car counter. In no time you’re off to see the town.
Plane tickets for one person are expensive and for two people they can really add up quickly.
Luckily, we have the Southwest Companion Pass, which allows us to essentially travel two for the price of one. Every time Shannon purchases a Southwest ticket, Sergio gets the same itinerary for only the cost of taxes and surcharges. Talk about the ultimate BOGO (Buy One Get One Free)! Extra Pack of Peanuts has a great article on how to get the Southwest Companion Pass.
The first down side is that one ticket to each destination on our route is still expensive, and much more expensive than driving. Second, we’d still have to rent a car for local transportation. We’d do public transportation wherever possible, but let’s face it, public transportation is lacking in many places within the United States.
The upside of renting a car locally is that you have the same pick-up and drop-off location. This saves a hefty fee that you get when renting in one location and dropping off in another city.
Naturally, since we’re value driven we need to take into consideration time, convenience, flexibility, etc., not just cost.
2. Rent a car in our home town and keep it through the end of the trip in San Diego.
Doing this option means we have to drive the whole trip and we pay a nice little surcharge for dropping it off, not only in a different city, but several states away.
Another difficulty with this plan is that we don’t have an official date of departure. We could try letting the car rental company know that we're going to rent the car and pick it up on date X, but we’re not completely sure when we’ll return it. Could be a month, or it could be six weeks. We doubt that’ll fly.
However, there are ways around this, like extending the rental period, but this just leads to timetable issues and other variables we’d rather avoid.
3. Drive our car and then sell it in San Diego.
Just like renting a car, this means that we’d have to drive the entire route, which is a lot of driving.
Second, our car is no spring chicken. At 17 years old and 150,000 miles driven, it's seen younger days! However, being that it’s a reliable Honda Civic and we’ve taken really good care of it, it may end up being just fine for the whole trip.
The biggest negative to driving our own car is that we can’t sell it before we leave. This means we’ll have to sell it at our final destination. This could take 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 months. This dramatically increases the number of variables around our intended departure date.
The Pros and The Cons
We ran the numbers on all options (spreadsheets are our friend). We considered the cost of plane tickets to local car rentals, to one long rental and then to the cost of gas if we used our own car.
We took into consideration all the pros and cons.
Renting a Car for the Entire Trip
We pretty quickly were able to eliminate the option of renting a car for the entire trip. The unknown length of our trip, as well as the cost, made this option prohibitive.
The ease and simplicity of flying to each destination, along with the reduced price of airfare with our Southwest Companion Pass was very alluring. If we chose to fly, we’d be free and clear, leaving Idaho with only our 36-litter backpacks and ready to go. No car, no apartment, and no excess belongings to worry about.
On the other hand, the cost of plane tickets and local rentals was pretty expensive and would take away from our funds to travel in Europe.
Driving Our Car
A pro, we realized, to taking our own car was that we could use this west coast trip as a trial run of our traveling in Europe. Having the car with us would allow us to carry a few extra things with us, like shampoo and dental hygiene supplies, that we’d use up in the few weeks we traveled within the United States. It would also allow us to ‘test carry’ things we aren’t sure if we'd use in Europe.
Ultimately, it will allow us to fine tune our backpack along the way.
Drum Roll Please...
After careful analysis, we chose to take our own car to San Diego.
Now that we’ve finished the road trip and are in San Diego, we can honestly say it was a great decision. We made it safe and sound with no car trouble. Our little Civic was a trooper!
We ended up with two boxes of stuff and our beloved buckwheat pillows when leaving Idaho (on top of our new travel backpacks). One box was considered ‘short term’ and used for consumables that we used daily (shampoo, face wash, etc.). The second box was considered ‘long term’ and held items we didn’t plan on touching much until arriving in San Diego (paperwork for the car, toiletry containers, and new shoes, etc.).
Along the way, we got a pretty good idea of what we need and what we don’t. We also learned how much we consume, so we can be aware of what we need to purchase and how often we need to purchase it along the way.
Preparing to Sell Our Car
Once arriving in San Diego the major item on our ‘to-do’ list was cleaning, listing, and selling our car.
We wanted this done ASAP. We felt this could take weeks and neither one of use wanted to be stuck in San Diego waiting for the car to sell or having to sell it for a ridiculously low price.
So, with this variable and sense of urgency we jumped to it.
There were a few things we had going for us, along with a few things we did that helped us sell our car for a good price.
Initial Car Choice
Honda's are known for being reliable cars and because of that they hold their value fairly well.
We had excellent gas mileage on our car. Between it being a small, high MPG (miles per gallon) car, as well as the way we drove it, we got 38 MPG average over the previous four years!
We took very good care of our car. We did all of the routine maintenance and when something went wrong (which it rarely did) we fixed it right away.
We had the maintenance records dating back to 2002 (from the previous owners).
We never allowed any smoking or animals in the car.
The Car Listing
We cleaned the car top to bottom. We both spent a solid five hours cleaning it! First impressions are everything. When a car looks good, it’s assumed it’s well maintained.
Our listing was extremely detailed and included the fundamental information, plus, as you would expect much more. We made sure to note that it had limited owners and had always been driven by responsible adults.
We took extensive images. Every angle inside and out. (For an added layer of security don’t forget to blur or block the license plate.)
We used Kelly Blue Book, Edmunds, and other local car listings for the same make/model/year of car to find the high and low end value of the car.
We listed it on the higher side of the range (it of course warranted it) to leave room for negotiation.
Lessons Learned: How to Get More When Selling Your Used Car
Of course, there are always things beyond the basics you can do to try and increase the resale value. Since we’re constantly evaluating our options and past decisions, here are a couple lessons we learned from our experience.
New tires – Our tires had about 80% wear on them. We choose not to replace them because we highly doubted the $350 investment would bring that much or more on the selling price.
Things happened so quickly (less than an hour from our initial Craigslist post) that we were taken by surprise. We should have been more prepared. In particular should have talked about negotiating as a team ahead of time. Both of us are experienced in negotiating on our own, but not as a couple. We didn’t go into it prepared, by knowing our lowest acceptable offer or who was taking the lead. We were fortunate the buyer didn’t take advantage of our lack of preparation. A lapse in judgment for sure. Next time, we’ll be sure to discuss this ahead of time and have a plan of attack.
That Was Almost Too Fast
Here’s the fun part of the story! We listed the car on Craigslist and within 15 minutes had our first inquiry and within an hour we had four calls/messages. The first person to inquire bought the car within that hour.
Because we expected the process to take a couple of weeks and therefore cause us to lower the price multiple times, we’re very happy to have sold the car for $200 less than we initially asked for. A fair deal for us and the buyer!
Once we sold our car we were excited to cancel our car insurance! But we learned one very important thing: You don’t want to go without car insurance. We explain in our article Don’t Cancel Your Car Insurance Before Reading This
So now that the car is sold… we have a much shorter ‘to-do’ list. We can’t say that our parents aren’t disappointed it happened so fast, since it may mean less time in their spare room and us on the plane to Europe much sooner!